The National Football Stadium at Windsor Park has been officially opened by Gianni Infantino, President of FIFA.
The Northern Ireland Executive and the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure (now Department for Communities) provided the £38million funding for the redevelopment of the home of Northern Ireland football.
Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness were among the guests at the opening ceremony along with Irish FA President David Martin and Irish FA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson.
The official launch was staged prior to Northern Ireland’s World Cup 2018 qualifier against San Marino. FIFA President Gianni Infantino said: “With this project the Irish Football Association is both safeguarding its historical legacy and reshaping its football home in a way that fits the country’s needs.
“Windsor Park has been transformed into a compact, world class stadium. It is a smart and sustainable solution, and I am honoured to be here in Belfast to see this project come to life.
“Congratulations Northern Ireland. May the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park be the stage for unforgettable matches and moments for many years to come.”
Irish FA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson said the stadium was a fitting home for Northern Ireland’s involvement in the number one sport in the world.
And he added: “The National Football Stadium is not just a building but a symbol of hope and aspiration for the new Northern Ireland we are all part of.”
The redevelopment project, which took 29 months to complete, has seen three new stands – East, South and West – built at the stadium, while seating in the ground’s existing North Stand has been refurbished and a new covered walkway added.
The stadium, which now has a capacity of 18,600, features four hospitality lounges – named after Northern Ireland football legends (Pat Jennings, Danny Blanchflower, George Best and Billy Bingham) – as well as 10 corporate boxes.
It will soon feature an education and heritage centre and a store selling Northern Ireland merchandise. The ground is also now the Irish FA’s HQ and houses the offices of both Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) and Linfield FC.
A total of 1292 people worked on the construction project, from designers to builders, and between them they clocked up 754,400 work hours. Around 1,900 lorry loads of concrete were used – circa 25,000 tonnes – as well as 186,000 bricks.